The practice of eating real non-processed foods has helped me tremendously over the past two years. The nutrient density on a Paleo style diet has afforded me a healthier lifestyle than most Americans, but that does not mean it is optimal.
I’m a big fan of nooropics, but sometimes optimizing cognition and physiology has more to do with getting the right micronutrients rather than adding a chemical compound or natural herb.
To find out whether I get enough micronutrients, I analyzed five days worth of diet and tracked a few other variables as well.
This is going to be a long one, guys. Skip down to the end if you just want the conclusion.
Micronutrients for an Optimized Brain and Body
Everyone that pays attention to their food knows about major macronutrients, which include fat, protein, and carbohydrates. These are all important, but there are many more micronutrients that humans need for optimal brain and body function.
My diet consists of the highest quality meats, fats, and carbohydrates with plenty of vegetables, but my analysis was quite surprising. Just because one eats healthy food and maintains good lifestyle practices does not mean they get adequate micronutrients for cognition or longevity.
These are the micronutrients I chose to monitor over this week long period and why. I will also provide a researched-based goal for each micronutrient based on my age, gender, activity level, and other factors.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin, which is commonly considered a “sunlight vitamin” due to the human ability to synthesize it with the sun’s radiation. Aside from the sun, it can be found in fish, eggs, and dairy products. As I do not eat dairy, I was reliant upon fish, eggs, and sun to be my main sources for vitamin D.
The benefits of vitamin D are quite well researched and include improved cognition, immune and bone health, and enhanced mood. Americans and peoples in northern climates are often at risk for vitamin D deficiency, which increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other problems.
For me, one of the most important benefits of vitamin D is the protection against DNA damage. While the intake required to minimize DNA damage currently remains unclear, it reduces oxidative damage and can prevent telomere shortening (which are both markers of aging). I first learned about this listening to Dr. Rhonda Patrick on the Joe Rogan Experience here. Also, find more information about vitamin D on her site, Found My Fitness.
Daily Dosage Goal: 400017 IU
Why: The dose range 20 – 80 IU/kg is used for “higher doses”. I used 23andme andGenetic Genie to find out that I have VDR Bsm mutation that controls vitamin D hormone receptor expression, which may indicate that I require higher supplementation.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a huge component for adequate brain health, but are primarily effective when taken in EPA and DHA form. One reason omega-3s are so important is for an equal ratio with omega-6 fatty acids, which are found more commonly in modern diets. Many Americans have a omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 20:1, which creates all types of harm to the brain and the body.
Omega 3s are primarily interesting for me as an anti-inflammatory. Considering a large portion of the brain is made of DHA, it makes sense to consume adequate quantities of this specific type of omega-3. That being said, there is evidence that supplementation can decrease the body’s natural synthesis of DHA. This is why I prefer to stay away from mega doses of omega 3s.
For vegetarians / vegans or people that do not like the concept or taste of fish oil, flaxseed is not a good substitute. The body does not synthesize DHA from flaxseed very well and instead utilizes marine omega-3s best. This adaptation undoubtedly comes from thousands of years eating fish versus a fraction for flaxseed. However, algae provides an excellent source of DHA at a much higher cost than fish oil.
Daily Dosage Goal: 1750 mg total; 600 DHA 400 EPA
Why: The American Heart Association recommends 1g daily, but I’m skeptical whether they place enough importance. However, there is no need for mega doses at 5 – 6 g as the benefits (reduced muscle soreness and anxiety) are not worth the cost.
I sweat. A lot. With hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), my levels of many micronutrients is depleted; magnesium is the second highest deficiency in the world (behind vitamin D). Magnesium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. Most people are deficient because grain products deplete magnesium stores. Large quantities of nuts and leafy greens (where magnesium is most abundant) are required for adequate amounts.
Again, Dr. Rhonda Patrick has a lot of good information on magnesium. One benefit includes enhanced ATP (energy) by producing the raw materials to create new mitochondria. Numerous other studies show magnesium is useful for improving sleep and relaxation.
Considering I drink green juice and eat a lot of nuts and leafy greens, I may not be “deficient” in magnesium per se. I sweat so much, I probably should supplement, though. Anyone interested in supplementing with magnesium must be aware of the different types. Magnesium is a landmine. First, of you want to test adequate levels, make sure you use a magnesium EXA test (ask your doctor) because serum tests only see 1% of the total magnesium.
The most bioavailable forms of magnesium include glycinate. The MagTech blend with L-threonate and taurate can enhance magnesium absorption. For more information, view this forum thread.
Daily Dosage Goal: 550 mg
Why: The RDA for magnesium is 400mg, but I doubt that is enough. Furthermore, I exercise rigorously and sweat more than anyone I have ever met.
Most people who eat processed foods have a poor potassium level and ratio with sodium. Some people consider a 5:1 potassium to sodium ratio to be optimal, which is nearly impossible given the modern processed food options. Athletes require adequate potassium for proper muscle function and it is an essential electrolyte.
The banana companies (Dole specifically) has done a great job brainwashing us about potassium. A single banana (or two!) can give us all the potassium we need, right? Actually, bananas are not that great of a source of potassium. Plenty of other foods, like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, kiwis, etc. have far more potassium than bananas.
Daily Dosage Goal: 5000 mg
Why: The optimal intake for potassium is around 4700mg, which less than 50% of Americans actually achieve. Given how much I sweat and exercise, I probably need at the higher end of the range.
Found in various meat, eggs, and legumes, zinc is an essential mineral involved with many enzyme systems. Like magnesium and potassium, zinc is useful in cellular metabolism and plays a huge role for the immune system and DNA synthesis.
Vegetarians and athletes must be particularly careful with inadequate zinc. Also, due to high calcium consumption in modern diets, zinc does not get absorbed as readily. I don’t suggest taking a calcium supplement with zinc.
Daily Dosage Goal: 20mg
Why: Zinc consumption on a “high dosage” range is between 25 – 45mg per day. I’m incredibly sweaty and active, but that seems a bit excessive compared to the recommendation of 11mg for a male of my age. I may test with higher zinc if well tolerated.
Folate (Vitamin B9)
Walking the folate balance is a very fine line. Also known as vitamin B9 and often used interchangeably with folic acid, this micronutrient is incredibly important for the methylation process. A deficiency in folate accelerates telomore shortening, which is an indicator of aging.
It is also required for DNA replication and repair (specifically thymine incorporated into DNA). For healthy individuals, this is necessary for cell maintenance, but can be problematic for cancer patients.
It is important to note the difference between folate derived from natural food sources and folic acid, which is often used as a supplement. The body uses them differently and folate from food is useful while folic acid in abundance can be harmful. If one does require a folate supplement, make sure it has 5-methyletrahydrofolate or “5-MTHF” as the source rather than folic acid. There are other B vitamins (namely B6 and B12), but I found folate to be of particular importance.
Daily Dosage Goal: 800 mcg
Why: The RDA for my age is 400mcg, but the importance for aging and DNA repair is too great to risk a deficiency. The Natural Institutes of Health has the upper limit at 1000 mcg of folic acid per day. Given the debate on folate vs. folic acid, I’ll stick to mostly natural folate from green vegetables.
For memory there are few substances that are better for your brain than choline. Although your brain can synthesize the neurotransmitter acetylcholine independently, it is optimal to provide dietary choline as a precursor for this vital neuro chemical.
Choline has been implicated in a variety of functions in the brain including memory, neurological protection, and even mental energy / focus. Dietary choline is high in eggs and organ meats, but modern diets are often deficient compared to optimal standards.
Daily Dosage Goal: 550 mg
Why: The recommended choline intake per day is around 550 mg for me. While I rarely accept the recommendations as is, this one seems quite good. Mega doses of choline aren’t all that helpful and some data suggests implication with coronary disease (unresearched on my part). Either way, if I supplement it will be with CDP choline or alpha GPC (you can get both with the Optimal Choline Complex).
The immune benefits of vitamin C have been lauded for decades, but oranges (and orange juice) are not the only place to get it! This anti-oxidant properties make it an exceptional tool for reducing symptoms of the common cold. Athletes who consume enough vitamin C can reduce the risk of getting a cold in half while the duration of a cold can be decreased by 8 – 14%.
Vitamin C is able to sequester free radicals and offers neuroprotective effects (related to blood flow) as well.
Daily Dosage Goal: 625 mg
Why: The daily recommended intake is around 100 – 200mg, but that is far too low for a physically active person such as myself. I believe getting 500 – 750 mg of vitamin C is possible through food alone without the need for supplementation. I don’t quite buy the 2 – 10 g for immune strength argument, but I recognize higher doses of vitamin C are tolerable.
Beta-carotene might be more commonly known than vitamin A. This is a group of fat soluble vitamins that are involved with immune function, but primarily vision. This is why you may have grown up consuming lots of carrots. There are a few forms of vitamin A found in animal products, but beta carotene is the most important by most accounts. There is plenty of vitamin A in sweet potatoes, spinach, and a variety of other vegetables besides carrots.
Daily Dosage Goal: 1000 mcg RAE (retinol activity equivalents)
Why: This is a direct snag from the Food and Nutrition Board and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. My age bracket requires 900 mcg so I adjusted upwards a bit.
Let’s Get to the Chase – My Diet Micronutrient Profile
This experiment led to some interesting findings that I would have never expected. In the days I was gathering data, I consistently heard / read things that made me believe I was sufficient or deficient in various micronutrients. I was surprised by the end result.
You can find the raw data below, but I’ll provide a brief conclusion so that you don’t have to read about each and every micronutrient. Eating a primarily Paleo diet modified with occasional oatmeal on workout days actually yields a pretty damn good nutrient profile. I’ll say that again for emphasis. A health diet consisting of quality meat and a lot of vegetables will provide almost all the micronutrients you need for the recommended daily intake. Drinking 8 ounces of green juicehelped tremendously a well.
The only problem is between recommended intake vs. optimal intake. My daily goals are higher (sometimes 2-50 times higher) than what the government deems “acceptable”. If you want to have your brain and body firing on all cylinders, you can’t really take those nutritional guidelines too seriously.
For an athlete who sweats a lot, I am worringly deficient in potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Only one day did I break my daily potassium goal and only by 0.7%. Zinc is even worse; I never achieved above 57% of my goal. My vitamin C often dipped under 35%. I may be above the RDA, but it is not optimal. With omega-3 fish oil supplements I can go from 31% of my daily goal to at least 80%.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. When eating fish and taking advantage of sunlight, I can exceed 400% of my daily vitamin D goal. The same holds true for vitamin A (at 2-300%).
Even though my diet and juicing may get me to the RDA for almost every micronutrient, it does not address the difference between surviving and thriving with optimal mind and body. It’s obvious to me that in order to reach my physical, professional, and personal goals, supplements can and will play an increasing role.
That being said, the supplementation journey requires a lot of tweaking, adjusting and I’m sure it will be a lifelong process. Before starting any supplement regime, do a lot of research first. A lot.